In March 2011, a Jamaican national arrived in Barbados on holiday – but instead of the typical visitor's welcome, Shanique Myrie was subjected to a cavity search, kept in a dark room and subsequently deported, even though she was carrying no illegal substances. Claiming that her rights as a CARICOM citizen had been trampled upon, Ms. Myrie hired lawyers and a year later, the case was being heard before the Caribbean Court of Justice. Jamaican blog Active Voice took note of the “landmark” case, making the point that the issue of class was playing a key role in the hearing. Back then, the blogger, Annie Paul, explained:
This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica, visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.
Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.
Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican.
Last Friday, the court ruled in favour of Shanique Myrie – and bloggers have been taking about it. Today, Propaganda Press posted the executive summary of the ruling. The Support Shanique Myrie Facebook page was also full of status updates and comments about the favourable judgment:
Shanique won, we all won, justice is served we r free to move abt OUR caribbean!!
Luther Tull wrote:
Congrats to Ms Myrie, U stood firm against a state n won, some of these officers don't seem to think that people have basic HUMAN RIGHTS n abuse what authority they have, so this victory is for all the people of the caribbean who were abuse n was scared to challenge the state.
Jersey Jersey quipped:
…looks like Barbados may have to pay some money that we cant (sic) afford. Civil Servants again, we need to be like Greece, fire them when they don't perform
The Facebook page, unsurprisingly, kept diligent track of the events, and was very clear in the understanding that the case was also about the state of regional relations. Quoting from a Jamaica Observer editorial, the page administrator posted this update:
All of this has raised questions about the value and relevance of Caricom to the citizens of its 15 member countries.
Indeed, these events have created resentment and an inclination to dismiss Caricom as nothing but a government ‘talk shop'. The governments themselves have not done enough to address the problem, which, if a solution is not found, will undermine the worth of Caricom to many of its citizens.
On January 28, the highly regarded former prime minister of Jamaica, PJ Patterson, publicly asked at a meeting of the Rotary Club in Guyana: ‘What purpose does the Caricom passport serve if travelling within the region is still like an obstacle race?’
This post explored the issue even further:
As a Jamaica[n] living in Barbados, I must say that we all need to look beyond our nationalities and face the issue for what [it] is. Whether the young lady is telling the truth or not, this incident should be used by both states to take an internal look at its domestic policies and address the various issues with prudence. Issues such as, to what extent are we truly committed to free movement?
Is there proper legislation in place to ensure that Immigration officers, Customs Officers, Police and other civil servants do not usurp their powers? I can attest to ill treatment from Barbadians at the airport too, but one could proffer that this is exemplary of immigration officers all over…or not?
The point is that we need to train our public personnel to address each other in a cordial manner and to not constantly overstep their boundaries. There is an underlying problem that we must address, and it has very little to do with Jamaicans backing Jamaicans and Barbadians being Xenophobic…we need to reassess the extent to which we are committed to integration and to earning rather than demanding respect.
Finally, Barbados Underground wrote an in-depth blog post about the outcome of the controversial case:
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) decision between Shanique Myrie and Barbados…continues to resonate across the region – editorials, talk shows and on the streets. What is evident is that members of Caricom need to better manage how we promote freedom of movement given our obligation under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).
Loud by its silence has been the reaction of Barbados to the decision. The DNA of the Barbados government is to be slow in deliberation. One wonders though if the Prime Minister sees a need to demonstrate a departure from the norm given the psychological punch Barbadians have taken since the decision was delivered.
There is general acceptance that Immigration, Customs and Police officials in Barbados need to be more efficient in the execution of their duties. The Myrie matter hopefully has embarrassed the country enough to drive needed change at our borders. The bigger issue arising from the CCJ decision is the protocol which ALL Caricom States must establish to allow Caricom nationals to cross borders…
The post went on to question the wisdom of a free market economy…
There are lessons coming out of the EU experience which exposes the weakness of a free market. There are the borders of member countries whose economies are stronger which will be bombarded. There is currently discussion in the UK about floating a referendum to decide on the whether to leave the EU. Until then its borders continue to be peppered by the Easter Europeans.
There is something wrong with the Caricom free market model when there is mass movement from the largest members to the smallest.
…and ended with more questions than answers:
Now that we have this decision how will Jamaica treat with the Haitians? How will Barbados respond to the CCJ decision? Hopefully it will not ignore the CCJ Order…